Have you ever noticed after you visit a retailer’s website, you keep seeing banner ads for the company on other websites that you visit, including Facebook? This is a widely employed online technique called retargeting, to remind you to return to the earlier site that you abandoned.
E-commerce companies, recruiters, schools, entertainment companies – and now lawyers – are employing retargeting to display advertising to website visitors who have bounced off a previously visited site. These are prospective clients who might otherwise contact a competitor because they left your website and then found the competitor’s.
Example law firms include Hughes & Coleman, a Louisville, Ky., personal injury firm; D.M. Cantor, a criminal defense lawyer in Phoenix, Ariz.; the Richard Harris Personal Injury Law Firm in Las Vegas, Nev.; and Steven D. Miller P.A., a divorce lawyer in Plantation, Fla., according to the Geobid customer list.
“Retargeting” (often referred to incorrectly as “remarketing”) is a proven online marketing strategy, according to Law Firm Marketing 360. “97% of prospective law firm clients look at 3 to 5 law firm websites before contacting one. Many people spend weeks or months researching their legal issue, deciding what to do. The reality is very few website visitors convert [become a client] on their first visit. Retargeting ads keep your attorney ads in front of prospects. As they research legal concepts, go to YouTube or even just read the news, your ads stay with them, building awareness and trust. With timely, targeted ads, your conversions [new clients] will jump dramatically.”
A law firm website that uses retargeting will place a cookie, or line of computer code, on the visitor’s browser. The cookie will store the site visit but does not store any sensitive information, such as the visitor’s name, address, or any other information that might personally identify the visitor. Then, when that person visits a site in the advertising display network – especially local news channels to CNN or ESPN – the visitor will see the law firm’s banner ad.
To try it out, simply visit the Zappos shoe site, look at a pair of shoes, and leave without buying. Next you will see Zappos ads all over the web.
“These visits are far more likely to convert, since they have already seen your message and what you have to offer and are choosing to visit the site again,” according to swell-SITES. “This model makes sense for most consumer-facing areas of law like divorce, bankruptcy and even personal injury and criminal defense. Imagine your potential client first looking at your site after a past due notice or a fight with their spouse. They end up getting some preliminary information about bankruptcy or divorce but end up not taking any action.
“Now, when aggressive collection calls start, or problems with the spouse continue, they are more likely to come back to your site instead of starting a new search. Your potential clients may already remember your firm name, having seen your ad over the past few weeks. Even if they don’t, they will be seeing the ads again but they will likely resonate with them even more after additional trigger events.”
Retargeting is inexpensive. The cost of a click based on a legal term in Google AdWords can exceed $100 per click, but a click on a remarketing advertisement will typically cost as little as $1–$3 per click on the banner ad.
Retargeting ads on Facebook can cost as little as $1.35. “On average people spend 20-40 minutes per day on Facebook and visit the social network 14 times per day,” according to WordStream. “The click-through rate on Facebook ads compared to traditional display ads can be as much as double, meaning the likelihood of bringing clients back to your site is much higher than other ad types.”
The set-up fee for a campaign is in the $750 range, with a monthly cost of $800. According to a recent study by Marin software, the majority of marketers are spending less than 10 percent of their advertising budget on retargeting.
A Google search will reveal many marketing agencies that will set up a retargeting advertising campaign. The ultimate vendors include Google and AdRoll, which says it has more than 37,000 customers.
“As you work hard to build a name for yourself within your industry, you need as many loyal consumers as you can find,” says Wisconsin Media. “Rather than giving up on the ones that didn’t find what they were looking for the first time, retargeting allows you to reach out to them again and again until they find just what they want.”
Retargeting also offers a long list of benefits including:
Increased return on investment
Loyal customers rather than lost visitors
Recapturing of lost leads
Setting Up a Retargeting Campaign
Lawyers can retarget visitors based on a person visiting any page on your website, based on visiting a certain page such as a contact form or a particular blog post, and even based on not visiting a certain page, such as your bio page. For example, a visitor to a particular practice page can be shown ads that illustrate that particular practice.
Lawyers can choose how to store the cookie in a visitor’s computer, up to 180 days. For example, if you have a service that requires people to sign up after 30 days, you can adjust the cookie duration to 60 days so that visitors are retargeted if they forget to renew directly after 30 days.
Another feature is frequency capping. You can limit displays of your retargeting ad to 10 times per day or place no limit at all. However, if you show your ad too often to users, it is likely they will begin to feel annoyed. An example is a group of upper-class women to whom Prada was retargeting. They would see Prada ads all day on every site, all over the internet. “It started to become very obvious that they were being targeted, and it came off as creepy,” according to Hanapin marketing.
Will the ‘Pants That Stalked Me On the Web’ Become the Lawyer Who Stalked Me On the Web?
Lawyers must make sure their use of retargeting complies with the Rules of Professional Conduct and, as important, whether people who visit their websites will be comfortable with the practice.
By Aviva Meridian Kaiser
In August 2010, Ad Age, a global media brand that publishes analysis, news, and data on marketing and media, posted on adage.com an article titled “The Pants That Stalked Me on the Web.”1 The author had gone to his favorite apparel website, Zappos, to shop for shorts. After viewing a few recommended selections, he abandoned the search. According to the author, “[t]hat’s when the weirdness started.” Even five days later, ads for the recommended selections appeared “just about everywhere” he went on the web, “including MSNBC, Salon, CNN.com and The Guardian.”
The author, a media professional covering online advertising, knew why he was getting these ads. He admitted that as a consumer, however, he would have been “creeped out by it, and definitely a little annoyed.”
In January 2014, Carolyn Elefant, on myshingle.com, asked whether lawyers should follow clients around the web.2 “These days, most consumers who decline to purchase a pair of shoes or jeans or car insurance from an online site are accustomed to discovering that the jilted object of their interest isstalking around the internet, turning up everywhere in the form of ‘retargeting ads.’ While many consumersfind these ads downright annoying, for others, they can be potentially embarrassing or downright dangerous when they involve legal services.”3
For example, Elefant considered what might happen if a domestic violence victim visits a lawyer’s website on a shared home computer looking for information about divorce.4 Later that evening, her spouse uses the computer and notices the lawyer’s ads popping up at other websites. These ads could rouse his suspicion and trigger additional abuse.
Similarly, consider what might happen if a family member visited a criminal defense lawyer’s website. While retargeting ads do not necessarily reveal the nature of a potential client’s legal problem, they do disclose that a prior user visited the lawyer’s website. Elefant concludes: “Lawyers can glean from existing rules whether retargeting ads pass ethical muster or not. But more importantly, even if a practice is ethical doesn’t make it a smart or appropriate way to advertise.”5
Retargeting ads, like any other advertising, must comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct. Statements about the lawyer and the lawyer’s services violate SCR 20:7.1 if the statements are false or misleading. SCR 20:7.2 requires that the cost of the advertising be reasonable, and that any communication includethe name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content.
Retargeting ads do not violate SCR 20:7.3(a) because they are not “real-time electronic contact.” However, SCR 20:7.3(b) prohibits a lawyer from soliciting professional employment by electronic communication if the person being solicited by the lawyer has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited or if the solicitation involves coercion, duress, or harassment. While it is unlikely that typical retargeting ads would constitute coercion, duress, or harassment, it is possible that a person being retargeted might call the lawyer and request that the retargeting stop. Lawyers who use retargeting should determine whether the retargeting ads can be stopped if requested by the person receiving the ads.
A March 22, 2018, article on Forbes.com, titled “Reset the Rules of Retargeting,” suggests that marketers must “rethink retargeting and reset on what it means to build and maintain consumer trust.”6 The article notes that high-frequency ad rates have resulted in more people using ad blockers and cites a study by eMarketer “projecting that by the end of this year, 30% of people that use the internet will install and run ad blockers – twice as many as in 2014.”7
In addition, in January 2018, Google expanded its users’ ability to filter and block reminder ads with additions to its Mute This Ad setting. By accessing Google’s Ads Setting, users can see the advertisers that show the reminder ads and block those ads.8 In September 2017, Apple updated its Safari browser to prevent third parties from tracking users for more than 24 hours after a user visited a website. Retargeting firm Criteo revealed that Apple’s ad-tracking changes hurt Criteo’s business more than expected.9 In addition, the “Do Not Track” feature in web browsers asks advertisers and data miners not to track the user’s browsing habits.10
While retargeting can be an effective way to increase the number of potential clients who visit a lawyer’s website, lawyers should consider more than just the conversion factor. In addition to complying with the Rules of Professional Conduct, lawyers should consider the potential for danger and embarrassment that can be caused by retargeting ads, especially in areas of law such as divorce, bankruptcy, and criminal defense.
Aviva Meridian Kaiser, Univ. of Buffalo 1979, is ethics counsel with the State Bar of Wisconsin. Ethics question? Call the Ethics Hotline at (608) 229-2017 or (800) 254-9154.
4 Elefant posited this example but using Legal Zoom rather than an attorney. See id.
10 For example, for Safari users, click on Preferences and then select Privacy. The user will be given the option to select “Prevent cross-site tracking” and “Ask website not to track me.” The user also has the option to “Block all cookies.” For Chrome users, click on Preferences and then select Advanced. Under the Privacy and security heading, users are given the option to “Send a ‘Do Not Track’ request with your browsing traffic.”